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Lots of times in recipes, they'll specify using a stainless steel pan, but I find the non-stick aspect of Teflon to be an advantage. Is stainless steel really better, and if so ,What about it makes it a better choice?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The advantage of using stainless steel is the fond (tasty brown bits) that form in the pan. It both flavors whatever you are sauteing and is often used as the base for a pan sauce.

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Also, you can get uncoated steel a lot hotter than you can get teflon (which will break down -- it's basically plastic). So you can sear meats at a much higher temperature than you can cook them on teflon. For some things it doesn't matter, like sweating vegetables, but anything where you want to get some real heat involved to develop browned flavors, you're better off without the teflon.

A good compromise is well-seasoned cast iron, which you can heat incredibly hot, and stuff doesn't really stick to it much. Those pans are cheap, too, and last forever.

On the other hand, if you're cooking eggs, you definitely want the teflon, or cleaning the pan will be very frustrating!

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3  
+1 not only will teflon breakdown at high temps, the breakdown products are not exactly pleasant (or harmless)! –  Kryptic Jul 10 '10 at 21:29
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Agreed on no high heat for teflon, as saute is a high-heat cooking method -- but saute is 'jump' and requires flipping food (typically, a curved-side pan), which isn't typical for most cast-iron (except for some smaller enamalized cast iron). If you need an alternative to stainless, I'd go with thick anodized aluminum. –  Joe Jul 10 '10 at 21:42
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@Joe: You need to work out more. ;) –  Aaronut Jul 10 '10 at 23:42

As a follow-up to Harlan - I do my eggs in either a stainless steel pan (scrambled and poached) or an enamelled omelette pan (which is technically a kind of non-stick) - which cleans like a dream. Which is to say, I don't even see the need for Teflon for eggs.

The only cleaning difficulty is if you leave eggy residue in a stainless steel pan - but at least you feel you can attack it when cleaning, without fear.

Caveat : I've not spent the same money on non-stick cookware, and I am pretty good at having cooking accidents like putting an empty pan back down on a ring that is still on - the kind of thing that destroys non-stick coating.

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I've been reading lots on this site about what pan is best for eggs, b/c I can't seem to keep a nonstick pan alive for more than a year. My mom had an enamel omelette pan that she wouldn't use for anything else. Seeing that you have one also, I may look into this more. –  JustRightMenus Aug 24 '10 at 1:44
    
+1. I have never had a problem cleaning stainless steel pan that I have cooked eggs in. If you have burned egg on your pan you cooked them too long or got the pan too hot :D. –  Jduv Mar 31 '11 at 3:27
    
I use a cheap non-stick for eggs, and occasionally pancakes when I don't feel like breaking out the griddle, that I figure I will be replacing every year or two. Otherwise I use stainless. I will have to look into enamled pans. –  JSM Jun 27 at 17:03

There is a common misconception in the stainless steel vs. non-stick discussion that one of the two must be "better" than the other, but this doesn't necessarily have to be the case. It is perhaps more constructive to frame the question in terms of which is "more appropriate" for your regular cooking style. Stainless steel and non-stick cookware both have different strengths and shortcomings, but each one can prove equally beneficial when used in the right way. Give this article a quick read for information about the differences between the two and the sorts of situations in which each type is more appropriate.

Usually, a combination of stainless steel and non-stick cookware is the best way to cover your bases in the kitchen. For example, stock pots and sauce pans generally do not need to be non-stick, as their contents will most often be liquid-based. Frying pans, on the other hand, often benefit greatly from non-stick coatings, as they usually take a lot of the hassle out of cooking dry ingredients. While you don't necessarily need both types of cookware around, it does improve the overall usefulness of your kitchen and will leave you ready to cook just about anything.

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